From a crushing opening defeat to a promising dwelling victory, two parallel applications are set to intersect. As soon as the mud settles, one might be certain for a destructive trajectory whereas the opposite might be hovering in a propitious course.
The Blue Devils are coming into their second dwelling sport in a row at Wallace Wade Stadium after dominating their earlier one in opposition to North Carolina A&T 45-17. This Saturday they measurement up in opposition to Northwestern at 4 p.m., a extra daunting Energy 5 opponent coming off a Massive Ten Championship sport look final season. The final time these two met got here in 2018 when now-New York Giants beginning quarterback Daniel Jones led the Blue Devils to a 21-7 victory in opposition to a Wildcat crew that might go on to win the Massive Ten West. Duke now goals to recapture that successful tradition whereas Northwestern intends to select up the place they left off following a outstanding 2020 season.
So, how good had been the Wildcats final yr? They had been traditionally good for his or her program: 7-2 report, undefeated at dwelling and Massive Ten West champions. Their spectacular season was capped off by a 35-19 Citrus Bowl victory in opposition to Auburn, and a No. 10 end within the AP Ballot, their highest since 1995.
Nevertheless, the transition to this season has not been as favorable. The powerhouse crew of final yr closely relied on its senior class, graduates and expertise misplaced to the NFL, together with their AP All-Massive Ten Defensive First Staff linebacker Paddy Fisher; consensus third crew All-Massive Ten quarterback Peyton Ramsey; consensus second crew All-Massive Ten linebacker Blake Gallagher; and consensus first crew All-Massive Ten defensive again Greg Newsome II.
They solely return 4 starters on all sides of the ball. Moreover, they misplaced their legendary defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz, who led their No. 1-ranked crew protection within the Energy 5. That is a lot of why, even after ending tenth, the Wildcats nonetheless discovered themselves on the surface of the preseason prime 25. They didn’t do themselves any favors opening with a house loss to Michigan State, a crew that has been its kryptonite the previous couple of years. So, even after a bounce again 24-6 win in opposition to Indiana State final week, Northwestern, like Duke, nonetheless has a protracted technique to go.
Though they did lose a ton of expertise, the Wildcats are nonetheless a drive to be reckoned with. One of many greatest components that led to that incredible 2020 season was new offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian. Northwestern has constructed a popularity of being defensive-minded, however their offense was egregious beneath Mick McCall who had them near the underside of the whole FBS offensively in 2019. They’ve now change into rather more respectable after transitioning to Bajakian’s system and look to be even higher after a full offseason to implement his schemes. Quarterback Hunter Johnson has crammed the void left by Ramsey and appeared promising in opposition to Michigan State within the opening weekend, however regressed in opposition to Indiana State every week in the past.
Northwestern can also be nonetheless loaded with star expertise, a type of gamers being famous person sophomore security Brandon Joseph, who completed 2020 on the AP All-Massive Ten First Staff and got here into 2021 voted as an AP First Staff Preseason All-American. He’s a drive within the secondary and a priority for any quarterback he matches up in opposition to, as final season he tallied an distinctive whole of six interceptions.
There may be additionally their dominant offensive lineman Peter Skoronski, who’s on the Outland Trophy Watch Listing and linebacker Chris Bergin who’s on the Butkus Award Watch Listing.
The Wildcats greatest loss this offseason was seeing promising operating again Cam Porter go down with a season-ending harm, and their offense has struggled a bit to begin the season because of this. The offense has solely garnered a complete of 675 yards to Duke’s 1,014, which boasts a famous person of their very own in senior operating again Mataeo Durant.
Regardless of all this, the Wildcats nonetheless enter the Saturday night duel as favorites, and this matchup between Duke and Northwestern is ready to be a battle of an imposing Blue Satan offense versus a proficient Wildcat protection.
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